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The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen
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The Merciful Crow

by Margaret Owen

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1274149,498 (4.13)2
Fie, a sixteen-year-old chieftain from a lowly cast of mercy-killers, must rely on her wits and bone magic to smuggle the crown prince of Sabor to safety.

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Showing 4 of 4
Literary Merit: Excellent
Characterization: Excellent
Recommended: Highly Recommended
Level: High School

I absolutely adored this book! While it might've been a little difficult to get into at first (the language and world are complex and not immediately explained), once I was hooked I found it almost impossible to put down. Owen has built a fantastic world, jam-packed with interesting characters and complex lore. Even better, the lore is based on types of birds and their strengths, putting this book right up my alley.

The Merciful Crow transports us to the fictional kingdom of Sabor, where people are divided into castes based upon their Birthrights and individual powers. Phoenixes, for example, are the ruling class, and have the ability to both create and resist fire. Similarly, Vultures are given the ability to hunt, while Owls are given scholarly wisdom. Fie, a young Crow, is used to being the lowest of the low, destined only to follow plague beacons and offer a merciful death to their victims. As Crows are impervious to the plague, they are looked down upon and persecuted by the other castes despite the useful service they provide.

Fie, who has trained her entire life to be the chief of her clan, has her world flipped upside down one night when her band of Crows is called to the palace to dispose of the bodies of the prince and his trusted guard. To her shock and horror, however, the two are only pretending to be dead, and strike up a bargain with Fie's Pa to escape the murderous queen: transport them safely to their allies, and Crows will be protected by appointed Hawks in the future. For a caste frequently targeted by Vultures and other groups, this offer seems too good to pass up. Though Hawks and Phoenixes have traditionally never spoken to or interacted with the lowly Crows, Prince Jasimir and his friend Tavin must now live like Crows... or risk dooming the entire kingdom to the reign of a cruel and ruthless queen.

As I said before, this book is chock full of interesting lore, from the Birthrights of each caste, to the ancient wisdom of the old gods and the Covenant. There are even old songs and stories passed down from each generation to the next, something I'm sure that Owen has written and stored in her own personal database somewhere. What results is a world that feels very rich in detail, a world that pulls you in and makes you want to know more. One such example of rich detail can be found in the names of the characters, as all Crows are traditionally named the first foul word spoken to them. Thusly, characters like Fie, Swain, Hangdog, and Wretch exist alongside those with more ordinary names.

The story does not hold your hand at all, however; it throws you right into the action and challenges you to fill in the blanks of this universe as you go. The book includes both a map and a basic description of each caste and their powers in the front, which serves as a helpful guide while tracking the story's action, but this might prove to be a little much for the reluctant or uninitiated reader. For me, however, this was immensely fun and fulfilling, as it kept me interested in slowly piecing the puzzle together.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the romance, which I felt was incredibly well-developed. I have always been a huge fan of romance, both as the main plot and as a sub-plot, and am a well-known sucker for a well-written love interest. I especially love a romance that develops slowly, and give bonus points if that romance turns from mutual dislike to love (also known as the "love-hate" relationship). Fie and Tavin fulfill this role perfectly, butting heads in the beginning while having excellent chemistry and an obvious attraction to one another. Their journey from enemies, to friends, to lovers felt very natural and well-deserved, and I appreciate Owen's ability to really get me attached to the characters and their romance as I read.

In addition to excellent lore and romance, this book is also full of subtle yet poignant political commentary about classism and the abuse of power. As a Crow, Fie and her fellow clan members have gotten used to being treated lower than dirt, and don't even blink at their mistreatment. Tavin, on the other hand, has been raised as a Hawk his entire life, and takes great pride in his caste's call to protect others and uphold the law. He is horrified, however, when he sees how Crows are treated, often having to bite his tongue to keep from speaking out against the injustice from his own caste. Prince Jasimir, as a Phoenix, has to learn to humble himself in order to understand plights he has never had to face. In essence, he is forced to "check his privilege" in order to gain empathy for those beneath him. I think this is important for teens to grasp, as many of them may have grown up with privileges they're unaware of. The Merciful Crow confronts these privileges (privileges such as knowing help will be offered when seeking it from those sworn to protect you) in a way that never feels preachy or overt, and I appreciated the subtlety of the writing.

At the risk of praising this book into oblivion, I also really enjoyed both the cultural and sexual diversity in this book. Several characters, including Prince Jasimir himself, allude to being either gay or bisexual, and no big deal is ever made of this fact. For example, Tavin mentions that all of the lords and ladies of the land had been "throwing their sons at him" in the hopes of marrying into the royal family, demonstrating that one's sexuality is inconsequential in the face of wealth and power. As always, I really appreciate seeing the LGBT community represented casually, and I hope Jasimir is given a love interest of his own in future books.

Along with LGBT representation, there is also a great deal of racial and cultural diversity in this book. The Crows speak in what seems to be a Scottish accent, with words like "ken" and "aught" being thrown around frequently. Fie is described as having brown skin, though it is never clear exactly what her ethnicity is. The rest of the Crows are also seen as having darker skin, and while it is never expressly stated, I believe Jasimir and Tavin are this universe's version of Middle Eastern in appearance. Though some might take issue with the fact that most of the characters of color are the ones looked down upon in this universe, I think this is making yet another political statement about how people of color are treated by those in power in our own society.

I could honestly go on and on about this book for pages, but I don't want to give away more of the plot than is strictly necessary. Suffice to say, this was an immensely enjoyable ride from beginning to end, and I'm extremely glad I picked it up. It's full of magic, suspense, romance, adventure, and intrigue. The characters are complex and lovable, the story is compelling, and the world-building is both complex and extremely well done. I would recommend this book to fans of both fantasy and romance (though maybe not to reluctant readers due to its complex language), and I'm eagerly awaiting the release of the sequel next year. ( )
  SWONroyal | Oct 25, 2019 |
Fie is a Crow, a member of a despised caste whose sole power comes from immunity to the plague that kills other castes. Though some who hunt Crows maintain that they’re the source of the plague. When Fie’s father, the chief of her band, gets them involved with royals and royal plots, the Crows will either get real change—or get wiped out. It’s a good adventure, with some doomed cross-caste romance thrown in. ( )
  rivkat | Oct 10, 2019 |
Obviously this was overhyped as overhyped could be yet nevertheless “Merciful Crow” was still a somewhat enjoyable read with some major flaws that some readers may not be able to overlook. The original world-building adventure of a tale really started to pick up the pace ⅓ into the read after a slow and painful start. Seriously I had for a brief moment considered dropping this but I had decided to struggle through and wallah! I persevered and made it to the end. Kudos to me! Anyways… the downside of this novel were the characters. I. Hated. All. Of. Them. And not one, not one had any redeeming factors to make them worth liking. And let’s not forget the romance in which I can’t even formulate enough words to describe how bloody awful is was. This read could’ve done without the romance and I was left cringing with the instant love “my life would suck without you” type of romance. The “relationship” between Fie and Tavin was rushed and unbelievable. Like what was the purpose of adding the romance into this YA fantasy novel?! I need answers damnit! Despite those flaws, I was still enthralled by the author’s writing style and her ability to draw me in (enough) to the YA fantasy world she was able to create that's filled with action, adventure, and world-building. ( )
  ayoshina | Sep 30, 2019 |
Death, treachery and change. A YA fantasy!

Puzžling and yet not. A society where each caste has a bird attribute, and their place within the pecking order depends on their gifts and occupations. Lastly there is the Crows, the unclean caste whose job it is to remove those dead from plague, grant the act of mercy of those infected but still alive, burn the bodies and stop the plague from spreading.
A payment is granted as they leave the place they were called to. All too often that payment is unworthy. The crows are hated by the other groups.
But think on this. The organic nature of the community means that all have value, even if it is not immediately determined, due to fear and feelings of superiority.
If the Crows do not attend to their calling what would eventually happen? It doesn't seem that has been thought of. And the Crows must attend. It's part of their mandated calling by their universe.
Often the crows reward is vilification. They are hunted down, maimed and murdered by groups looking for 'fun.' The white Oleanders.
The start of the novel is violence tempered with necessity.
Fie is the chief in training for her group of crows. She's a strong and feisty character.
They have been called to the palace to remove two bodies dead from plague.
As they leave the Queen offers them insult with the degree of payment. Fie who is leading the 'money dance' (the bargaining) does not back down. Enmity is immediately born.
It becomes more complicated when the dead are the prince and his bodyguard look alike, and they're not dead! They need to flee to a place of safety, and they need the help of the Crows. (And in the long escape one wonders if such a place exists!)
A covenant is struck between Fie and the Prince. A world changing, Crow changing covenant!
Well of course the way just gets harder and even more complicated. Prince Jasimir and his bodyguard Tavin find that life as a lowly crow is so much more dangerous and destroying than they ever imagined.
I look forward to the next in the series with great anticipation.

A Macmillan Children's Publishing Group ARC via NetGalley ( )
  eyes.2c | Jul 30, 2019 |
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